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Doulas becoming accepted in birth process

Most women who have labored agree giving birth is no easy task – for some, using a doula makes the experience less trying.

“Doula” is an ancient Greek term meaning “woman’s servant.” The word has evolved to refer to a woman who assists in childbearing – offering continuous physical, emotional, spiritual and educational support.

Doulas generally arrange a prenatal meeting with the expectant mother, coach her throughout the entire birth process and visit her at least once during the postpartum period.



“When I became a doula, it really rounded me out and made me realize how little the medical professionals are trained in the emotional transitions a women goes through to be a mom,” said Jenny Backhus, a certified nurse midwife, birth consultant and doula trainer in Tahoe City. “That’s a huge part of it and it’s not really acknowledged in our culture and I think that’s one of the reasons women have such a hard time during the postpartum period.”

According to Doulas of North America, which handles doula certification, women who use doulas are less likely to receive epidurals or have Caesarean sections. The length of labor is shorter and use of drugs, far less.




Tahoe City resident Deanna Neu hired Backhus last year to assist in the birth of her first child, Magnolia.

“I wanted to do my laboring at home but I wanted to have the baby in the hospital for safety reasons,” Neu said. “(Backhus) was able to come over to my house and coach me through the laboring part of it. It was nice because my husband and I had never been through it. She helped by being there for both of us.”

Neu said she was interested in hiring a doula because her mother had two Caesarean sections and Neu wanted to have a drug-free vaginal delivery.

“That was my main reason for wanting to do it,” she said. “I really wanted to do it as naturally as possible. I didn’t want to use drugs and I really didn’t want to have a C-section. I’m pregnant now again and I will be using a doula again for this next one.”

Neu said she was glad she went through labor in the comfort of home, but thankful she delivered her daughter in the hospital with Backhus in attendance.

“When Magnolia came out she wasn’t breathing on her own so it was a big relief to be in a hospital,” Neu said. “Once we were at the hospital (Backhus) was really helpful, having suggestions for the nurses about positions which would be more comfortable or useful for me. A doula, the way I explain to people, is like having your own personal nurse. She was there for my husband and I throughout the whole labor.”

Kristen Lincoln, a South Shore doula, has been helping women with childbearing for more than 11 years.

“I did not actually call myself a doula until I realized that I fit the definition, so now it’s kind of nice to have that as an official term,” said Lincoln, who is also a midwife’s assistant. “It is a title that people are recognizing more and more. In big cities, especially, you will find there are many doulas. Some are even on staff at the hospitals.”

Lincoln said being a member of a birthing team is a special role.

“A doula is nonmedical support,” she said. “The nurses fill a need but doulas are nonmedical support there to give that particular laboring mother their undivided attention.”

Many women who use a doula are interested in drug-free birthing, Lincoln said. Prospective parents draw up a birth plan in meetings before the delivery.

“This is about supporting them and their choices,” she said. “If they say at a particular time they want to have drugs, absolutely. It’s their choice. I’m not there to keep them or to try to make it my birth.”

Kris Francis was 47 when she became pregnant last year. She asked Lincoln to be her doula for the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth.

“It was my first child and I had no idea what to expect, even though I went through child birth classes and all of that,” Francis said. “The main reason why I wanted her to be there was to give me some moral support during the process because I wanted to go through this without drugs. I went through 18 hours of labor without drugs and then I ended up having to have a C-section.”

Francis said she and her husband were both nervous during Elizabeth’s birth so it was nice to have Lincoln there to help communicate with medical personnel.

“She would remind everybody involved what my wishes were because I wouldn’t necessarily be in the state of mind to make demands,” Francis said.

In order to become a doula, one must take a training course, attend three births as a doula, write an essay and read two books, Backhus said.

“That’s for the Doulas of North America certification,” she said. “It’s actually a very easy certification when you think of what they get. Most people who are interested have a calling to do the work. The doula doesn’t do anything medical but she’s so focused on the woman, looking at her, bonding with her, breathing with her, just being there for her.”

Jenny Backhus, a certified nurse midwife, birth consultant and doula trainer, will offer a training seminar Oct. 12 through 14 at Washoe Medical Center in Reno. The $325 course is required by Doulas of North America for certification. For information, call (530) 583-7212.


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